Josh Brahm is a pro-life speaker who will be presenting a talk entitled “Making Abortion Unthinkable” at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul at 7 p.m. Jan. 12. He is the director of education and public relations for Right to Life of Central California. He produces YouTube videos and hosts “Life Report: Pro-Life Talk. Real World Answers,” a youth-oriented weekly netcast at http://www.prolifepodcast.net. Catholic Spirit staff writer Dave Hrbacek recently interviewed Brahm.
You speak a lot to teens and college students. What do you see in that age group when it comes to the life issue?
Like most things, there’s both good and bad news. The bad news is that I sense our post-modern culture is affecting more and more teens in negative ways. I interact with so many young people whose moral views are buried in relativism, which makes it hard to have a meaningful conversation about any issue. Even worse, some of them are apathetic to everything that doesn’t personally affect them.
Here’s the good news: The teens that do want to make a difference are out there, and they have the opportunity to change the world. The Internet and social networks give them more access to information and experts than young people have ever had. There are several great youth oriented pro-life groups, events, websites and YouTube channels that offer ways to actively fight abortion, even from home. Some of the pro-life groups that are making the biggest difference right now, like Live Action and Students For Life of America, are run by young people.
My generation is standing on the very tall shoulders of two generations that have gone before us, but we are the generation that will finish what our grandparents started. We will end abortion.
What are effective ways to draw young Catholic men and women to be pro-life?
One of the best opportunities for laypeople to make a positive impact on young Catholic men and women is through youth groups and confirmation classes. I speak to at least six of these a year, just on the local level. My perspective as an outsider is that many of the students going to confirmation classes are just there because they have to be, and don’t want to learn. I don’t know what the solution is, but the best times I have with young people are those groups where the students love to learn. I, in return, will be an interesting speaker with funny anecdotes and a challenge to get more involved. I would love to see the most skilled Catholic educators in the world get together and think outside the box about what can be done in the average confirmation class to instill a greater love of learning, as opposed to sitting in the seat to keep up their attendance record while really wishing they were somewhere else.
By the way, I sense the opposite problem among large Protestant youth groups. Protestant youth pastors are often great at getting the kids to look forward to coming and having a good time, but fail to teach more than cookie cutter theology, and rarely touch on subjects like abortion. In contrast, it’s basically a given that every Catholic church in my area will have me speak at least once a year because they’re not afraid of confronting controversial subjects. I think Protestant and Catholic educators have a lot they can learn from each other.
You have publicly debated leaders from Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Georgians for Choice and local abortion facilities in Atlanta. How did they respond to you and your pro-life arguments? Any success in engaging them?
Very much so. I always frame the debate the same way Scott Klusendorf, the most feared pro-life debater in the country does. In my intro I say, “I believe my opponent is right. Abortion should be legal through all nine months of pregnancy, and allowed for virtually any reason whatsoever, ‘If’: If my opponent can demonstrate scientifically and philosophically that the unborn are not human beings like you and me. If she can do this, I will concede tonight’s debate and you can all go home early. Because as Greg Koukl says, if the unborn are not human, no justification for abortion is necessary. But if the unborn are human, than no justification for abortion is adequate. The issue is not that my opponent is pro-choice and I am not. I am vigorously pro-choice about women choosing all kinds of things, like their college, their career, their spouse and their religion, but some choices are wrong, like killing human beings because they’re in the way of something we want, like a preferred lifestyle. No, ladies and gentlemen, that is a choice that an inclusive, pro-equal-rights society should not allow.”
And, you know what happens every single time? My opponent refuses to respond to the central issue at hand. They throw out their tired talking points and slogans about feminism and privacy and the government, but the audience can see right through it. (And then they grill her during Q&A, and I just sit back and watch the show.)
The question about the humanity of the unborn must be answered before this debate can be resolved. Pro-abortion-choice people would be wise to acknowledge that. Until then, they’re going to keep losing debates to pro-life advocates who won’t let them get away with red herrings and ad hominem attacks.
How can pro-lifers effectively dialogue with those holding opposing views?
I think it has more to do with relationships than we’ve ever thought before. People rarely change their minds about a sensitive social issue merely from driving by a protest, (whether the protesters are using graphic signs or not,) or from having one conversation with a stranger. It happens, and I’ve seen it myself several times, but it’s less common than putting a proverbial stone in someone’s shoe intellectually, as Greg Koukl puts it.
However, if you build a friendship with someone who is pro-abortion-choice, over time they’re going to get to know you better, and learn things about how you really are. My pro-abortion-choice friends KNOW that I don’t hate women or want to take away women’s’ right to vote, so now they can’t make the intellectually lazy move of dismissing my ideas by assuming I’m just pro-life because I’m a misogynist.
A friendship also allows for more time to discuss a given issue, with several conversations over an extended period of time. There’s no time limit, so you can answer every single question your friend asks you, and if you get stumped, you can simply say, “That’s a great question! I haven’t really thought about that too much. Can I mull it over and get back to you next week over coffee?” and you actually have a good chance of making that meeting happen. Meanwhile, your friend will be impressed that you’re taking her ideas seriously and not just making up arguments (or worse, statistics) off the top of your head to guard turf.
The most crucial character trait to have if you’re going to talk to people about a controversial subject like abortion is humility. Believe it or not, you and I both have some wrong views right now that we’re unaware of. We are all on a journey to learn more true things and less false things. That knowledge radically transforms my conversations because I want to seriously evaluate what the other person is saying. After all, she might be right about something she says! I’ve changed my mind about lots of things within the greater abortion debate, as I talk to more people and do more research. I find that people are usually more willing to talk to a humble person who’s open to being wrong about some things than a crusader who’s just preaching to the other person while not listening to her counter arguments.
In some of your presentations, you play the devil’s advocate with pro-lifers. What is the toughest pro-abortion argument to refute, and how do you do it?
Great question. The toughest pro-abortion-choice argument admits that the unborn are full human beings, but argues that mothers should still be allowed to kill them based on the idea that nobody should be forced to have their bodies used as life support machines for other people. There are several forms of this argument, as well as several counter-arguments, although I think more work needs to be done on this argument. In fact, I’ve been working with five young philosophers for the last six months crafting a brand new counter argument that I think is stronger than what’s been written before.
I can’t adequately counter every argument the pro-choice person could make in this space, but I can give a few general principles that are important to remember.
First, parents have greater responsibility to their own offspring than they do to strangers. It’s not like someone forced a stranger into the mother’s body. It is her own child.
Second, the parents are the ones responsible for causing the pregnancy in the vast majority of cases, where rape is not a factor. Imagine this scenario: There’s a room with a “baby-making machine” that has a big button on it. When you press the button, you have a very pleasurable experience, but there’s a small possibility that a baby will come out a chute in the machine. Clearly, if you push the button and a baby does pop out, you can’t just walk away and leave the baby. You’re the one responsible for making the baby, even though you didn’t know for sure that a baby would result from pushing the button. You have created an inherently needy child, and in essence, you owe that child compensation, namely, taking care of her at least until you can transfer that care to another.
Third, the parts of the mother’s body being used to care for her unborn child are being used in a natural way. In other words, those parts are fulfilling the purpose they were designed to fulfill: reproduce children. Similarly, when a mother breastfeeds her infant, her breasts are doing something they were clearly designed to do. Imagine a mother who lives in a remote village where there are no other lactating women or access to baby formula. Her baby is hungry, but the mother says, “This is my body. You do not have the right to violate my bodily integrity.” The baby dies of starvation. I think the mother in this case is rightly obligated, both morally and legally, to allow the baby to use her body’s natural function to feed her baby if there are no alternatives. I think the womb where the child is cared for during the first nine months of life is comparable to the mother’s breasts that naturally produce milk to feed the child after birth. It’s not like having your kidneys unnaturally hooked up to philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s famous violinist.
What pro-life arguments are weak and even can be counterproductive?
I’ve been pretty vocal about weak pro-life arguments and tactics because I want to see pro-life people have more effective dialogues on this topic with their pro-abortion-choice friends. Also, there are abortion advocates who will write things like, “Look, we’re for abortion rights, but don’t say that ‘life doesn’t begin at conception,’ because that’s just obviously biologically false.” I think pro-lifers should have the same thing, and while I’m not the first person to recognize these faulty arguments, I’ve probably talked about them publicly the most.
The most common faulty argument is that abortion is wrong because it hurts women. As my colleague Jay Watts says, there’s a difference between “what’s wrong with abortion” and “what makes abortion wrong.” Abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent human being without justification. I do believe that abortion hurts many women, both physically and more often, emotionally at some point. But that, in itself, doesn’t mean abortion should be illegal. After all, cigarette smoking harms women, but I don’t think we should criminalize cigarette smoking. I think it’s advisable for sidewalk counselors to be ready to talk accurately about the negative effects of abortion on women, because some abortion-minded girls will not reject abortion upon hearing the facts of fetal development, but will if she learns that abortion may not be the fast fix she thinks it is, but pro-life advocates need to be careful when they talk about this subject to be clear that this is not why we think abortion is wrong. Abortion is wrong because it kills a human being. Period.
The second most common faulty pro-life argument usually goes something like this: “Abortion is wrong because it may have killed the curer of cancer, or the next Beethoven.” It’s ironic to me that often abortion advocates immediately see why this argument fails, but some pro-lifers who have heard it all their lives use it without giving it a second thought. Here’s the problem: The argument works both ways. Yes, I’m sure some great composers have been killed by abortion, but I bet abortion has also killed some serial killers and rapists. That doesn’t make those abortions right. Those were still innocent human beings killed in that abortion. Ironically, it’s pro-abortion-choice people that often base human value instrumentally; meaning humans are valuable based on how positively they impact society, while the pro-life view is that humans are intrinsically valuable. That means we are valuable because of who we are: human beings made in Gods image.
Do you have hope that today’s pro-life teens and young adults can help bring an end to abortion in America? Why or why not?
Yes, but I think it will take several decades of more work. Remember, the abolitionists needed to work more than just 40 years to accomplish their goals, and they lived in a world where critical thinking was valued and opposing views were considered a lot more than they are today. We have our work cut out for us, but we are clearly winning. The national abortion rate has been dropping since 1990. More people are identifying themselves as pro-life. 4D ultrasounds are making it harder and harder for abortion advocates to refer to the unborn as mere “blobs of tissue” and still be taken seriously by people in the middle. Young people are finding more innovative ways to change hearts and minds on this issue, one at a time. I think one day enough minds will change that society as a whole is effected, and abortion will become thought of the way we think of racism today. Yes, there are still some racist people today, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as it once was, nor is it tolerated. One of my colleagues has said that one day our grandchildren will ask us about the time when people were legally allowed to kill their babies and they’ll ask us, “What did you do about it?” Hopefully our response won’t be, “Well, I was really busy with church and stuff, but I participated in a few walk-a-thons.” No, we should be able to say, “I was one of the people who fought it, and ended the killing.”
If that’s you, then the first step is equipping yourself to engage the people in your sphere of influence. The best websites to start with are http://www.Abort73.com, http://www.ProLifeTraining.com and my own weekly radio show archived at http://www.ProLifePodcast.net.
Category: Respect Life